Budapest is fast becoming one of central/eastern Europe’s major weekend getaway destinations.
Did you know that the Hungarian capital is actually 2 cities? Buda and Pest. Separated by the Danube River, it only officially became one city, Budapest, toward the end of the 19th century.
The 2 cities are quite contrasting, Buda being hilly, calm, relaxed and packed full of beautiful architecture including Fisherman’s Bastion and the castle. And Pest, being the hub for commerce, business, hospitality, nightlife and culture.
Taking the best parts of Vienna’s elegance and coffee culture and Berlin’s edgy hipness, Budapest has something to offer everyone from history and architecture buffs to hipsters and ravers.
1. Explore the city on wheels
My favourite way to explore a new city is by hiring a bike or scooter. Prices ranging from 2€/hour to 16€/24 hours and organised tours starting at 21€, it’s a very affordable way to get around. We opted for a scooter because we had a lot of hilly ground to cover.
Here are some companies that do day hire and offer commentated bike tours:
We went with Hi 5 and I can definitely recommend them because they were easy to deal with and were very reasonably priced.
2. Take a walking tour of town
Whether you take yourself or go with an organised tour, walking around Budapest is great to discover by foot.
From discovering the oldest graffiti in town or spotting the narrowest building, you’ll be sure to find out some of Budapest’s secrets just by walking around.
Here are some companies that offer walking tours:
If you’re on a shoestring, then this free walking tour of Budapest is perfect for you.
3. Visit the traditional baths & thermal springs
Budapest has been called the city of spas. During your visit you should definitely make a trip to Szechenyi Bath and Spa, the cities first thermal baths on the Pest side and one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe.
It’s thermal springs were discovered in 1879; and are the deepest and hottest ( 74 – 75 C. ) thermal wells in the capital.
The neo – Baroque baths were built in1913, the swimming pool in 1927. The open – air sections with their pleasantly warm waters are equally popular in winter.
There are pools to suit everyone, with several sizes with varying temperatures (26 – 38 C) both inside and outside as well as several sauna and steam room options (40 – 80 C).
And if you’re looking for a party, why not go to one of their Sparties? Starting in April and running every Saturday till September.
4. Visit the House of Terror Museum
Having survived two terror regimes, Hungary sought fit to erect a fitting memorial to the victims and present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times. In December 2000 ˝The Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society ˝ purchased the building with the aim of establishing a museum in order to present these two bloody periods of Hungarian history.
It contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building.
Unfortunately I didn’t allow enough time here so make sure you allow at least 2-3 hours and defiantly get the audio guide.
5. Take an evening river cruise
One of the best ways to see Budapest is from the Danube River. I suggest doing a cruise in the evening because the city is just so pretty all lit up.
Here are some companies that offer river cruises:
6. Try traditional Hungarian pastry
If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I have somewhat of a sweet tooth. I can never visit a city without trying their traditional sweets.
Hungary was no exception. So when I spotted the Hungarian chimney cake, I just had to try it.
It is made from sweet, yeast dough, of which a strip is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit, and rolled in granulated sugar. It is baked above charcoal cinders while lubricated with melted butter, until its surface gets a golden-brown color.
During the baking process the sugar stuck on the cake and becomes caramel and forms shiny, crispy crust. The surface of cake can then be provided with additional toppings such as ground walnut or cinnamon powder.
I went with cinnamon.
“Ish rearrphy guuud!”
7. Visit the Hungarian State Opera
The neo-Renaissance opera house is located in central Budapest. Originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House, it was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th century Hungarian architecture.
Construction began in 1875, funded by the city of Budapest and by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, and the new house opened to the public on the 27 September 1884.
Today it is the largest opera house in Budapest and in Hungary.
Unfortunately no shows were on when I visited but here is the programme, be sure to check it for your next visit.
8. Visit the Fisherman’s Bastion
Definitely one of Budapest’s top tourist attractions. The present day lovely lookout towers and decorative fortification of Fisherman’s Bastion were built in the 19th century to serve as a lookout tower for the best panoramic views in Budapest.
Make sure you stop to appreciate the view and get a few snaps.
9. Visit St Matthias Church
For you architecture buffs, a visit to the Roman Catholic St Matthias Church located in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion at the heart of Buda’s Castle District is a must-visit.
According to church tradition, it was originally built in Romanesque style in 1015.
The current building was constructed in the florid late Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century.
10. Visit the Hungarian Liberty Statue
The Liberty Statue or Freedom Statue is a monument on the Gellért Hill. It was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet occupation of Hungary during World War II, which ended the occupation by Nazi Germany.
The bronze statue stands atop a 26 m pedestal and holds a palm leaf. Originally the monument consisted of two more Soviet statues but they have since been removed from the site and relocated to Statue Park.
Now the statue commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.
While up here, make sure you have your camera ready, as Gellért Hill offers some of the best panoramic views of Budapest.
11. Visit Margaret Island
Margaret Island provides a peaceful hideaway from hectic downtown Budapest with large green areas, flowery gardens, old trees, and lots of entertainment.
The island is home to medieval ruins, a small zoo, a water tower, a water park and an open air theatre.
If the weather is nice, I would recommend devoting at least half a day to exploring the island.
12. See a Hungarian band
Wherever possible, I love to see local bands play.
So when stumbling across A38, voted Europe’s best bar by Lonely Planet – we just had to check it out.
The night we attended was Random Trip, which features the best local musicians from today’s vibrant hip hop – nu jazz, dub, d’n’b and rock scene.
Playing was Ivan & The Parazol lead by Vitáris Iván. They were so charismatic on stage and were singing in both English and Hungarian.
You can watch them here.
Budapest, you were amazing and I can’t wait to come back one day and explore more!
Anisa – The Macadames. xx